Leia at Fortescue HQ

Leia's Story

Date published

22 Apr 2024

As a fly-in fly-out HR professional for 15 years, Leia Piccoli had witnessed many mining colleagues require an RFDS retrieval in a medical emergency. She had never expected to need the service herself.

Leia at Fortescue

In late December, the 35-year-old was on her first swing in a new job at Fortescue’s Cloudbreak site in the Pilbara when she was overcome by frightening symptoms. She had vertigo, an intensely painful headache, her face had drooped on one side and she was dizzy and confused, struggling to recall her own mother’s name.

The emergency response team at Cloudbreak called upon the RFDS to fly Leia to Port Hedland for urgent medical attention. Tests at the hospital showed she had suffered a cardiac episode, and a scan revealed a damaged artery in her brain. She was then flown to Perth on another RFDS flight, where she was rushed to Royal Perth Hospital.

“I didn’t even know what a stroke was, but I was told I’d had one, and it had damaged both sides of my brain,” said Leia. “And with my heart unable to pump blood to my brain, it caused a stress-induced heart attack.”

Leia describes it as the worst 24 hours of her life, but says it was the timeliness of her treatment which has meant she’s now made a full recovery.

“There were times I really thought I was going to die,” Leia said. “But I was able to get the medication that I needed, which stopped me from suffering another stroke or a heart attack.”

My doctors say my recovery has been extremely good, and I attribute that to getting medical attention so quickly.


Leia is also quick to praise the doctor and nurse on her flights.

“They were able to calm me, when I did not feel calm at all!” she said. “I was on edge, I was crying and they held my hand and told me I was going to be ok.”

One month later, with the support of Fortescue, Leia was able to make a gradual return to work. She is now getting back to doing things she loves, like pilates and customising her Troopy vehicle for a dream lap around Australia. Fortescue also recently celebrated its second year of funding RFDS’s aeromedical helicopter service.

The RFDS transfers around 28 patients in Western Australia every day, and more than 10 patients every week from mine sites.

Every dollar donated this Flying Doctor Day will ensure people like Leia can access the care they need, wherever they choose to live, work or travel around WA 🛫

Make a donation on or before 15 May and see it doubled by our Matched Giving Partners IGO, CBH and Westgold.